Ironomi: Sketch

A mini-album of live improvisations recorded on a summer day in 2007 in a 200-year-old wooden house atop a hill in Mashiko, Ironomi's Sketch is an ambient classical recording of particularly pastoral character designed to evoke the languor of the Japanese summer. The Japan-based group is made up of pianist Junya Yanagidaira and Yu Isobe, who uses his laptop to both provide evocative, nature-based textures for the piano to ruminate against and to manipulate Yanagidaira's playing by multiplying and refracting it using real-time sampling and processing. That his playing eschews clear-cut melodies and themes isn't a handicap in this context due to the constant interventions and treatments Isobe brings to the raw material the pianist provides. As a result, Ironomi's music is obviously less about conventional compositional structure than it is about the creating and sustaining of mood, in this case placid more often than not.

The album's pastoral character is established by the opening piece, “Natsumushi-iro,” as layers of placid piano sprinkles ruminate and meander for four minutes, augmented by faint bird chirps and ambient hiss that suggest setting without demarcating it. If the opening piece finds the piano embedded within a textural tapestry, “Soro-iro” shape-shifts dramatically by comparison; in this case, the even gentler piano playing is at times presented in single, unadorned manner and at other times multiplied by Isobe into multiple layers until the echoing fragments first become slivers and then turn liquidy. The twelve-minute running time of the central piece, “Uraha-iro,” allows for the painterly and hypnotic qualities of Ironomi's sound to be amplified. The measured repetition of echoing fragments produces a lulling effect that grows mesmerizing, so much so that the addition of a soft bell accent seven minutes into the piece proves momentarily startling. The impressionistic ripples of piano fragments generate the cumulative feel of a gently flowing river, an effect intensified when the laptop smudges the piano materials into a more fluid form. In the closing track, “Toki-iro,” an insistent bell is the first element heard, after which the piano drifts into position, its loops creating an effect like a twirling crystal wrapped in gauze, its reflections dimmed by the covering. In a surprising move, the textures recede, allowing the piano to assume for a few moments a more straightforward character before the track's close.

Thirty-three minutes turns out to be an optimal duration for music of this kind, as it's enough that a clear portrait of the group and album emerges but not so much that the material wears out its welcome. This is, incidentally, Ironomi's first release outside of Japan after five domestic releases; that in itself accounts in part for the fully formed identity one hears captured on Sketch.

January 2011